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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Pere­jil and Pars­ley

Pere­jil and its Eng­lish ver­sion pars­ley sound very dif­fer­ent. But they are, ac­tu­al­ly, et­y­mo­log­i­cal­ly the same word.

They sound dif­fer­ent be­cause of­ten the ‑s- and ‑sh- sounds in Span­ish turned in­to the let­ter ‑j- with the Ara­bic throat clear­ing sound as a pro­nun­ci­a­tion. Thus, the p‑r-j‑l of pere­jil maps ex­act­ly to the p‑r-s‑l of pars­ley.

Val­i­ja — Valise

In some of the Span­ish words, they say male­ta to mean “suit­case.” But in oth­er parts, such as Ar­genti­na, they say val­i­ja.

Val­i­ja, al­though it sounds dif­fer­ent from any­thing Eng­lish, ac­tu­al­ly is quite sim­i­lar to the almost-forgotten–my grand­par­ents still use it!– Eng­lish word, that al­so means “suit­case” , of valise.

Al­though they sound dif­fer­ent, the con­nec­tion be­comes clear if we re­mem­ber the pat­tern of the sh- to j- con­ver­sion: Latin words that had an sh- sound tend­ed to turn in­to the j- sound in Span­ish. Think of sherry/jerez.

In this case, the French valise en­tered Eng­lish un­changed but when the French word was bor­rowed in­to Span­ish, it was Span­ish-ified with the s- sound turn­ing in­to a j- sound. Thus, the v‑l-s maps to the v‑l-j.

Jabón — Soap

Soap and the Span­ish for the same, jabón, sound like they have noth­ing in com­mon. But sounds can be de­ceiv­ing.

Both come from the same root: the Latin se­bum, mean­ing “grease”.

How can such dif­fer­ent words be so re­lat­ed? Easy: the Latin s- sound and its vari­a­tions (sh‑, ch- and sy- for ex­am­ple) usu­al­ly be­came, un­der the ara­bic in­flu­ence, a j- sound in Span­ish but re­mained more in­tact in Eng­lish.

Thus, the s‑p of soap maps al­most ex­act­ly to the j‑b of jabón. The “p” and “b” are of­ten eas­i­ly in­ter­changed as well.

Less fun is al­so not­ing that, from the same Latin root, mean­ing “grease” we al­so get se­b­or­rhea (a med­ical con­di­tion of hav­ing too much grease on your skin).

Eje and Axle

The Span­ish eje for “axle” comes from the Latin for the same, ax­is. The Eng­lish axle comes from the same com­mon an­ces­tor as the Latin ax­is, the pro­to-in­do-eu­ro­pean root *aks- al­so mean­ing the same.

The Span­ish eje is easy to un­der­stand if we re­mem­ber that most of the x/sh/ch sounds in Latin and the an­cient lan­guages be­came the throat-clear­ing ‑j- sound in Span­ish. Thus, the e‑j of eje maps to the a‑x of axle pret­ty clear­ly.

It’s in­ter­est­ing how such a sim­ple word has re­mained most­ly un­changed for tens of thou­sands of years. Per­haps, the axle is one of the most fun­da­men­tal dis­cov­er­ies in hu­man his­to­ry. It is, af­ter all, what led to the wheel, which led to… civ­i­liza­tion.

Lejos and Leash

We re­cent­ly dis­cussed the re­la­tion­ship be­tween de­jar and re­lax, both from the same Latin root, laxare, from the Latin laxus. Oth­er mod­ern words come from these same roots, let’s see…

In Span­ish, an­oth­er in­ter­est­ing word from the same root is lejos, mean­ing, “far.” This un­der­went the same sh to j tran­si­tion doc­u­ment­ed in the oth­er post. That which is far away, af­ter all, is what we can be re­laxed about, what it’s easy to be loose about.

Some ad­di­tion­al Eng­lish words that come from this same root in­clude:

  • Lease — think about it this way, the Eng­lish say “to let”, that is, to let peo­ple do some­thing with your prop­er­ty, to be re­laxed and dis­tant about it.
  • Lush — the lush man is some­one who is re­laxed about his dili­gence drink­ing.
  • Leash — a leash is pre­cise­ly what you use to try to not let any­thing get re­laxed!
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